Fans that have followed Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons for any stretch of time over the past quarter century know the versatile award winning and Grammy® nominated guitarist/composer and producer has long had a penchant for naming songs and albums after exotic places (“Aruba,” “Kenya,” “Morocco,” Weekend in Monaco, Sahara, et al). But The Ripps’ latest Peak Records recording Cote D’Azur--inspired by Freeman’s passion for the French people and the storied region of the French Riviera—is more than simply the latest stamp on Freeman’s well traveled passport. Beyond simple wanderlust or a gathering of “musical postcards” from the Southern region of France, it taps into a spirit that’s deeper and more transcendent than any other group project to date.
All of the songs on Cote D’Azur tell stories of Freeman’s extensive travels in France with his wife Yaredt Leon, a hit songwriter in her own right who contributed tracks to the Ripps Latin-themed Wild Card (2005) and Modern Art (2009). Cote D’Azur is bookended with songs they wrote together, the high energy title track and the beautiful “Mesmerized.” Yaredt has been Freeman’s consummate travel partner these past years. For a time, he couldn’t get enough of Italy, but the minute Leon (whose mixed heritage is Colombian-French) introduced him to her father’s homeland of France, Freeman was hooked.
After so many excursions to the country--and train trips from Paris to Cote D’Azur (the French Riviera)--that he loses count, Freeman felt music stirring inside him that was exotic, deeper and more heartfelt than any he had ever written and produced before —quite a bold statement considering that their music has played such a defining role in contemporary jazz since the release of Moonlighting in 1986. He also feels that both musically and technically, Cote D’Azur takes an incredible leap forward.
“This is the best album I’ve ever written,” he says, “and unlike on any other Rippingtons recording, the music is a pristine crystallization of the way I first heard it in my head. I think the incredible cultural connection between France and America hit me one night in Nice when I was watching a show on the history of St. Tropez. Brigitte Bardot was so well known as a model and film actress, but in the 60s she also did hundreds of music videos of French remakes of songs that were big hits in America. Remakes of everything from Elvis to the Beatles were huge. Johnny Hallyday is a French music superstar who patterned himself after Elvis. All of this taught me how close our cultures really are. They also were big into American surf music in the early
60s, and that inspired the new song ‘Le Calypso.’ All of this, combined with Yaredt’s French heritage, really made me fall in love with the country.”
Cote D’Azur is a daring, full-scale exploration of world that fascinates Freeman and, as he has discovered, has more ties to American culture than he ever imagined. So much so that on tour throughout the U.S. in the summer of 2010, The Rippingtons gave their thousands of loyal fans an extraordinary gift. Months before the official release of the album, the band complemented their run of classic hits with an unprecedented sweep of six songs from the new collection.